Have you ever seen a photograph from the past or picked up an old hockey card and thought, “Oh yeah, I forgot he had played for the (insert team here)”? Well, get ready for a lot of that.
Oftentimes, we associate star players with the one or two particular teams where they really established their careers or experienced the most success. Think Gretzky with the Oilers, Lemieux with the Penguins or Bourque with the Bruins.
But throughout the history of the NHL, few players have spent an entire career within a single organization. Professional hockey is a business, after all, and more often than not, players will skip around to three, four, five and possibly even more teams during their time in the league, as contracts and trades change the landscape of the competition.
With all that moving around, it can be hard to keep track of every team a player winds up playing for, especially if he didn’t stay in any one place for long.
That much is true for the Toronto Maple Leafs organization. An Original Six franchise that’s been around for the better part of a century, the Leafs have seen well over 900 different players suit up in the blue and white, all with varying lengths of tenure.
While you can probably rattle off a dozen or so of the NHL’s biggest stars who made a significant impact during their time in Toronto, I’ll bet you forgot that these 15 players once played for the Maple Leafs.
15 Brian Leetch
When you think Brian Leetch, you think of the New York Rangers, right? Yeah, me too and everybody else in this world. He spent over 16 seasons in the Big Apple, setting record after record and becoming one of the greatest defensemen ever to play game. Next to Mark Messier, he was the face of the franchise.
But in 2004, after 16 years with New York and a string of disappointing seasons for the team, the Rangers gave Leetch the boot, dealing him to the Maple Leafs at the trade deadline, as they unloaded a bunch of salary cap bulk.
Leetch finished off the 2003-04 season in Toronto, appearing in 15 regular season games and another 13 in the post season, but then the 2004-05 NHL lockout happened, wiping out the final year on his contract and burying in obscurity Leetch’s short time with the Leafs. From there, he signed with Boston and appeared in 61 games for the Bruins in 2005-06 before finally calling it a career.
14 Joe Nieuwendyk
Through the first 18 seasons of Joe Nieuwendyk’s 20-year NHL career, he played for four different teams. First, for the Calgary Flames, where he won a Stanley Cup in 1989; next, with the Dallas Stars, where he won a Stanley Cup in 1999; then, with the New Jersey Devils, where he won a Stanley Cup in 2003; and finally, with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In case you didn’t notice, one of these things is not like the other, which is why you probably don’t remember Nieuwendyk as a member of the Leafs during the 2002-03 season. Of course, leave it to Toronto to break the guy’s streak of playing for championship-winning teams.
After hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup with the Devils, the Maple Leafs signed him to a one-year deal for the 2003-04 season, during which he battled multiple injuries and missed 17 games. After that year, the lockout happened, and then we went to play for the Panthers, so really, there wasn’t a whole lot to remember about him as a Leaf.
13 Alexander Mogilny
Maybe I’m just stuck in the ‘90s, but Russian great Alexander Mogilny will always be a Buffalo Sabre in my mind. It probably has a lot to do with his somewhat fluky 127-point season in 1992-93 in which he set a Sabres record with 76 goals, tying Teemu Selanne for the league lead, but that’s neither here nor there.
After his six seasons in Buffalo and parts of five with the Vancouver Canucks, Mogilny went on to New Jersey in 2000, where won his one and only Cup championship before landing in Toronto in 2001 for the next three seasons.
Somehow, I forgot about him being there, and I have a feeling you did too. He put up decent numbers in his first two seasons there, 57 in 2001-02 and 79 in 2002-03, but in 2003-04, he was limited to just 37 regular season games due to a hip injury, which led into the lockout-cancelled 2004-05 season. After that, his career was basically over after an unceremonious short return to the Devils the following season.
12 Joel Quenneville
Coach Q has been a pro hockey bench boss for the past 25 years. He’s got nearly 800 NHL wins as a coach and is currently second all-time only to Scotty Bowman.
But did you realize the man behind the mustache also had a pretty lengthy playing career? If you did, you may or may not remember that he debuted in the league with the Maple Leafs in 1978. If you didn’t, well, then you probably don’t.
The Leafs took Quenneville 21st overall in the 1978 draft, and he played 61 games there that season before being traded to the Colorado Rockies midway through the following year. In 93 total games with the Leafs, he had all of three goals and 13 assists, so if you forgot about that, I think you’ll be forgiven.
11 Mike Gartner
Poor Mike Gartner probably resented that he played for the Maple Leafs.
Remember this? At the end of the 1993-94 regular season, his fourth year with New York, the Rangers were poised for a deep playoff run. Gartner was excited, because he was easily the best player in the league never to have won anything, let alone get into a Stanley Cup Final.
And then the Rangers traded him at the ’94 deadline to the Toronto Maple Leafs before marching straight into a Stanley Cup title. Meanwhile, Gartner only got as far as the Western Conference Finals, as the Leafs fell to the Canucks in five games, and he had to watch his former team parade around with the hardware. Total bummer.
Gartner spent another couple of forgettable seasons with the Leafs before his final two NHL years in Phoenix, but for most he’ll always be synonymous with Washington and the Capitals for his decade in D.C.
10 Ron Francis
In his illustrious 23-year NHL career, Ron Francis sandwiched a total of 16 seasons with the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes franchise around a seven-year run with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Oh, right, plus 12 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs at the very end of his career in 2004. But you probably don’t remember that.
Francis was an ironman hockey player beloved by both the Whalers/Hurricanes and Penguins franchises. Between those teams, he made four All-Star games, won two Stanley Cup championships, earned three Lady Byng Memorial Trophies and rose to second on the all-time assists list with 1,242.
After returning to the Hurricanes as a free agent in 1998, Francis spent most of his last six NHL seasons in Carolina, making one more appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Red Wings in 2002.
Approaching retirement and with no shot at the playoffs in Carolina at the end of the 2003-04 season, the Hurricanes graciously sent Francis to the Maple Leafs as a rental player for one last shot at a third Cup. In 12 regular season games in Toronto, he would add seven more assists to his total before the Leafs were eliminated in the second round of the post season, ending Francis’ career on a pretty forgettable last note.
9 Benoit Hogue
Quebecois left-winger Benoit Hogue was picked by the Sabres in the second round of the 1985 draft and made his NHL debut at the end of the 1987-88 season. He would go on to play in parts of four seasons each for the Sabres and New York Islanders, scoring at a decent 0.75 points-per-game clip.
During the 1994-95 season, Hogue was shipped off to the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he experienced whatever the opposite of a renaissance is. His playing time dropped off and so did his production.
Hogue would depart from the Leafs about as quietly as he had arrived after parts of just two seasons in Toronto. Over 56 games in the blue and white, Hogue registered a paltry 15 goals in 56 games.
8 Mike Peca
The bulk of Mike Peca’s measured success in the NHL took place between 1995 and 2004 when he skated for both the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders. And if I’m being honest, I remember Peca well, but I don’t remember him playing for the Edmonton Oilers OR the Columbus Blue Jackets, let alone the Maple Leafs.
It’s true. After Peca led the Oilers on a Cinderella- like run to within one game of a Stanley Cup championship in 2006, he signed with the Leafs for the 2006-07 season. The reason it was so insignificant in the course of his 13-season career, was because he suffered a season-ending injury just two months into the campaign and never came back.
He ended up with 15 points in a Maple Leafs uniform over just 35 games and signed with the Jackets the following season, leaving Toronto behind, almost as if he was never even there.
7 Larry Murphy
Larry Murphy apparently took a page out of Joe Nieuwendyk’s book when he sandwiched his two years with the Maple Leafs from 1995 to 1997 between longer stints with teams who both won back-to-back Stanley Cup titles.
After Murphy was traded from the Minnesota North Stars to the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 1990-91 season, he helped the Pens win back-to-back Cup titles in 1991 and 1992. After three more seasons in the Steel City, he was swapped for Dmitri Mironov and sent to the Maple Leafs in 1995, where he spent two mediocre seasons.
Late in the 1996-97 season, he was sent to Detroit, and whaddya know? He immediately wins a Cup with the Wings and tacks on one more the following season for good measure, almost like he was taunting the Leafs for their perpetual futility.
6 Olli Jokinen
Olli Jokinen had one of the most itinerant pro hockey careers of anyone in history, which is probably why you won’t remember his short time with the Maple Leafs late in his career.
He got his pro career started in Finland before moving to the U.S. to suit up for the Los Angeles Kings in 1998. From there, he jumped to New York to play with the Islanders before joining the Panthers in 2000. He spent seven years there, setting all sorts of Panthers records, but also played for three different Finnish teams during the 2004-05 lockout.
In 2008, Jokinen began his tour through the league in earnest, playing for seven different teams over the course of his final seven seasons. In his final year in 2014-15, he began in Nashville, was traded to the Leafs in February of that year, and after only six games with Toronto, was traded again, this time to the St. Louis Blues, where he finished off the last eight games of his career.
So, unless you caught him during those two weeks as a Leaf, you probably don’t remember.
5 Owen Nolan
You probably recall Owen Nolan as a member of the Quebec Nordiques or San Jose Sharks. Between those two teams (and his nine games in Colorado after the Nordiques relocated to Denver and before he was dealt to the Sharks in 1995), Nolan spent the first 11+ years of his career establishing himself as the talented, Irish-born power forward we all knew and loved.
Near the end of his 11th year in the league, the Sharks traded Nolan to – you guessed it – the Maple Leafs just ahead of the 2003 trade deadline. There, he finished off the year with 12 points in 14 games. Remember? Of course you don’t.
In 2003-04, Nolan’s only full season in Toronto, he was dogged by constant injury and disappointing performance. Then came the 2004-05 lockout, and then an entire year out with injury before he signed with Phoenix in 2006-07, so I don’t exactly blame you if you forgot about Nolan’s unremarkable time with the Leafs.
4 Dave Semenko
Best known as one of the toughest guys ever to play the game, big-man Dave Semenko is known mostly for his time in Edmonton protecting superstars like Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri and Mark Messier. He won championships there in 1984 and 1985 and was beloved by Oilers fans during his nine years there as they made the transition from the WHA.
In 1986, near the end of his career, Semenko was dealt to the Hartford Whalers and then went to the Maple Leafs during the 1987 offseason. He polished off his career in Toronto during the 1987-88 season, scoring five points in 10 games.
Despite the entire final season of his career with the Leafs, most people remember him for his time in Edmonton and the 1987-86 season as just a footnote.
3 Dave Andreychuk
This one you may recall better than the others, since Dave Andreychuk spent parts of four seasons with the Leafs, but, when I hear the name Andreychuk, I think of two things: First, the last four years of his career, during which he won his one and only Stanley Cup championship with the Lightning, and second, his now shut-down namesake bar and grille outside of what was then the St. Pete Times Forum.
In reality, Andreychuk is one of the all-time longest-serving left-wingers. He spent the first 10 seasons of his career with the Buffalo Sabres and was traded to Toronto midway through his 11th in 1999. While in Toronto, he had his best offensive season in 1993-94, scoring 53 goals and 99 points.
He took the Leafs to the Conference Finals in back-to-back seasons in 1993 and 1994 and even earned the nickname “Uncle Dave” from Toronto fans. So for those of you older than about 30, maybe you actually do remember Andreychuk’s Maple Leafs years.
2 Phil Housley
Phil Housley could be the answer to a good trivia question about the Maple Leafs. The second leading scorer among America-born players, Housley spent 21 productive years in the league for teams like Buffalo, Winnipeg, St. Louis, and Calgary among others but never won a Cup.
Near the end of his career, Housley was tossed around on the waiver wire for a few years before he was traded from Chicago to Toronto at the 2003 trade deadline. He appeared in one solitary regular-season game in the blue and white before the Leafs were dispatched in the first round of the playoffs, and thus ended Housley’s career.
So, yes, it was only one game, but it still counts, and I’ll bet you forgot that interesting little tidbit.
1 Eric Lindros
It’s true, injury-prone Eric Lindros once played for the Toronto Maple Leafs. You probably associate him most with the Philadelphia Flyers, where he played for eight seasons, averaging more than a point per game skating on the “Legion of Doom” line along with John LeClair and Mikael Renberg.
After sitting out a year in 2000-01 Lindros played a few seasons with the New York Rangers before the 2004-05 lockout happened. Once the labor dispute had been cleared up, he signed a one-year deal with the Leafs for the 2005-06 season.
He had a decent start to that season, scoring 22 points in 32 games, but wouldn’t you know it? He had another injury. A torn ligament in his wrist forced him out for 27 games before he returned in February of that year, only to go down with yet another injury four days later, ending his brief and ultimately forgettable stint in Toronto.